Happy families are all alike, but unhappy families are a totally different story, as can be seen in director Shim Kwang Jin’s 2006 film Mr. Lee vs. Mr. Lee (a.k.a. Long Day’s Journey into Night). The “Mr. Lee” in the title refers to both the protagonist and the lead, veteran actor Lee Dae Geun. Having appeared in some 300 films in his 40-year career, Lee is known for his masculine image and is fondly remembered as a sex symbol by older audience members. In Mr. Lee vs. Mr. Lee, however, he departs from this well-established screen personae, showing both age and vulnerability as an aged father seeking reconciliation. His performance earned him a Best Leading Actor nomination at the 44th Daejong Awards. Loosely based on the play “Happy Family” and Lee Dae Geun’s own life experiences, Mr. Lee vs. Mr. Lee builds an exceptional drama with pointed dialogue, pacing, and storytelling, spinning a theatrical character study into so much more.
For the third anniversary of his wife’s death, elderly widower Mr. Lee (Lee Dae Geun) hopes to gather his family together for a reunion. This task, however, is easier said than done. His children haven’t visited in three years, and they are a bitter lot, with plenty of their own problems to deal with. His eldest son (Lee Doo Il) is going through a rather nasty divorce, his daughter (Ahn Seon Young) gets held up by a car accident, and his youngest son has been MIA since he went bankrupt a couple years ago. As the estranged family gathers for the memorial, the words and secrets that spill out may make or break their already fragile bonds.